Archive for April, 2009

Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan

Emmaline and the BunnyI have a very low tolerance for sweetness, and while I don’t mind whimsy, I can instantly tell if it’s the slightest bit forced. One might think, therefore, that I wouldn’t care for a book featuring a whimsical, fantastical town and a girl who wants nothing more than a bunny to be her friend.

Emmaline lives in the town of Neatasapin, where the horrible mayor has outlawed trees, mud, wild animals, weeds, pudding, and almost babies (they’re very untidy). Emmaline is loud, exuberant and VERY untidy–none of the spick-and-span other children will even play with her. All she wants is a bunny–and she finds one. But how can she keep it safe forever, in the straight-and-narrow Neatasapin? And can she change her town for the better? Highly recommended for 3rd and 4th grade readers.

Posted by: Sarah

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Get Real! A Non-Fiction Video Review

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Get Real!, our once-a-month non-fiction book review video.

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Talia Talk by Christine Hurley Deriso

Talia TalkTalia is just starting middle school and she is terrified her mother will do something to ruin her chances at a social life. You see, Talia’s mom happens to have a local TV show where she does news, but also talks about all the little hiccups in Talia’s life. Talia is constantly being embarrassed by what her mom talks about. On top of having to deal with her mother, Talia has to figure out why two of her best friends have changed and why the other is suddenly bugging her.

But, there is a way she can figure it all out thanks to prodding by one of her friends. She joins the school’s local TV show. Suddenly, Talia is able to dish about her life the way she sees it, while also sticking in a few jabs at her mom. No one ever said middle school was easy, but Talia finds out that it might be fun anyway.

Posted by: Kate

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Special! An Interview with Author Katy Kelly

Katy Kelly is the author of the Lucy Rose series, and a brand new book about Lucy Rose’s friend Adam Melon, Melonhead. Ms. Kelly was kind enough to answer our questions, and we’re happy to share her responses.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No. My mom and dad were writers. I wanted to be an artist. My parents thought this was splendid and made sure I had enough supplies and occasional classes.

When did you start writing?

Although we didn’t know it at the time, my brother and sisters and I learned to write over dinner. The whole family came to the table with news of the day— reports from school, work, and the neighborhood. My dad is a funny man. My mom is empathetic. He talked about his day as a newspaperman, covering the Truman and then the Kennedy White House. My mom, who grew up in Louisiana, told us about debutante balls, a grandfather who wore spats and gambled away the family fortune, dresses made to fit 18 inch waists, whether on not the wearers had them. She was passionate about civil rights. My sibs and I listened to them and topped each other– when you are one of four you learn to hold your audience. We figured out how to make funny stories funnier, how to peel away extra words, what to hold back to make the ending a surprise. Three of us became writers*, though I didn’t start until I was in my later twenties.

I first got a degree in Painting and Printmaking and worked as an illustrator and later on projects with my husband, a graphic designer. The move to journalism was borne of desperation. Our daughter, Emily, was in her sixth month of non-stop colic when a friend offered a two-days-a-week job at People magazine. I would have done it for free.

(* My sister, Meg Kelly, is an Emmy Award winning screenwriter. Our beloved brother, Michael Kelly, was a syndicated columnist and the editor of The Atlantic Monthly. On April 3, 2003, he was killed while covering the war in Iraq.)

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?

I imagine I would still be an illustrator but maybe not. Once I master a skill I tend to try something new.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Read a lot. Write often. Edit. Rewrite. Don’t settle for almost perfect. And eavesdrop. When you’re on the bus or in line at the market, listen to the conversations around you. It is a great way to learn how people really talk and to develop an ear for dialog.

What is the hardest part of writing a book?

Sitting down and doing it. Sometimes I pack up my laptop and work at Politics & Prose bookstore near my house, or at the library or in a Starbucks. That keeps me from frittering time on Facebook and other distractions.

Do you have any ideas for new books right now?

I have mapped out the next Lucy Rose book—she’s going to camp—but I’m not exactly sure what is going to happen.

All the characters in your books are unique. Are Lucy Rose or Melonhead (or any of the other characters) based on real people?

I often steal from my own life. Lucy Rose’s grandparents, Madam and Pop, are based on my mom and dad. They live in big, wacky Victorian house very much like the one in which I grew up. Melonhead is very much like my five nephews and my brother Michael, when he was a boy. Lucy Rose’s teacher, Mr. Welsh, is based on—and named after—my daughters’ beloved kindergarten teacher.

Do you base any of your plots on happenings from your own childhood?

Some plot lines are based on life. My daughter’s runaway hamster inspired the great guinea pig escape and eventual rescue. But I upgraded his species and added the dumbwaiter adventure. (My childhood home had a dumbwaiter but, unlike Melonhead, we were not inclined to ride in it.)

Did you like to read when you were a kid? What kind of books? Who is your favorite author or book?

When I was small I was mad for Blueberries for Sal and even madder for The Night Before Christmas, which I insisted my very patient mother read to me every night for a year. My own daughter paid me back. I can still recite God Night Moon from memory.

I liked stories where kids were independent.. That’s probably why I later went for Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy and Homer Price and the Donut Machine.

As a teenager I loved Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers mysteries. When I finished I would re-read and look for the clues I had missed.

P.G. Wodehouse remains the cure for everything that ails me.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

I still draw and paint. I hang out with my family and friends. I visit schools. I volunteer. And I read.

Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?

At this moment, I can’t think of one. It was my great good fortune to work in newspapers when the industry was flush and adventurous. I got to satisfy a lot of curiosities during nine years as a feature writer for USA Today’s Life section.

I feel incredibly lucky to spend my days in the company of Lucy Rose and Melonhead.

Thanks to Katy Kelly! We greatly appreciate her fascinating answers to our questions. Be sure to check out Melonhead, and all her other books.
Follow this link to visit her Random House website.

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Turtle’s Penguin Day by Valeri Gorbachev

Turtle's Penguin DaySometimes it’s fun to pretend to be something different. After listening to a bedtime story about penguins, Little Turtle dreams about being one. The next day, he puts on a penguin suit and goes off to school dressed as a penguin. He shares his excitement with his classmates, and they spend the day waddling and sliding on their bellies. After a fun, penguin-filled day, Little Turtle hears a new bedtime story about monkeys (my favorite animal). You can probably guess what comes next! (Included in the book is a page of penguin facts).

Posted by: Liz

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Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

Ottoline and the Yellow CatLapdogs and precious jewels are missing all over town, and Ottoline and her best friend Mr. Munroe are determined to get to the bottom of it. Ottoline is a little girl who happens to live in a tall apartment building in a big city with a little hairy friend named Mr. Munroe, who by the way is a small creature from the bogs of Norway. Her parents are off travelling the world but send postcards periodically and have hired many, many people to take good care of Ottoline. She and Mr. Munroe feel a need to get involved in solving this mystery when Ottoline sees the stories in the crime section of the newspaper, and the dogs that are being kidnapped look strangely familiar. What also seems worth further investigation is the ad on the same page for “Lonely Pet Lovers – Quality lapdogs supplied for every knee.” Our characters must go undercover to solve this mystery! This is a quirky, offbeat little story, and it is really delightful. It has wonderful, detailed black and white illustrations with just a little bit of red thrown in to make the pictures more intriguing. It would be a really fun story to read aloud with your child, taking plenty of time to catch all of the special details in the pictures.

Posted by: Mary

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Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Versus the Evil LibrariansAlcatraz begins his book by telling us that he is going to be sacrificed on an altar by evil librarians and that he is not the hero that his people believe him to be. He is writing this book to set the record straight. But then he should begin at the beginning… He continually interrupts his narrative, usually at a very exciting bit, to address the reader and perhaps to talk about literary contrivances. The style is reminiscent of Lemony Snicket’s writing.

Starting the story again, we learn that he is an orphan and that he has been shuffled from one foster home to another. He, unfortunately, breaks things and these have become the things that his foster parents value the most. Then on his 13th birthday he receives a box of sand which the note says is his inheritance from his parents whom he does not remember. Thinking how rotten his parents were to name him Alcatraz of all names and then to send him a box of sand for his birthday, he accidently sets fire to the kitchen. Then things start clipping along. The sand is stolen, a man shows up and tries to kill him and he is rescued by a man who claims to be his grandfather. Grandpa Smedry explains that Alcatraz comes from a long line of Occulators and that they have to get the sand back because it will make the most powerful lenses known. He says that Alcatraz’s great power is the power to break things. This turns out to be true. In the quest for the sand, Alcatraz breaks floors and walls, he fights alongside a 15 year old girl warrior and travels with a man whose special power is tripping and knowledge of weaponry. They are tracking the evil Librarian and have infiltrated the central Library.

The book rollicks along with all kinds of dangers, silliness and distortions to reality until the reader hardly knows which end is up! Can the author convince children that librarians are evil and that they promote a distorted view of the world? Ha! Possibly! You’ll have to read it! This is a good book for silly fantasy lovers in grades 5-8.

Posted by: Fran W.

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